Bennis Inc. | Beating the Hourglass: My Foundation for Better Time Management
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Beating the Hourglass: My Foundation for Better Time Management

Beating the Hourglass: My Foundation for Better Time Management

I get asked quite frequently about my “secrets” for time management because apparently I seem to look like I have it all together. This couldn’t be further from the truth and even I have moments of stress, panic and sheer exhaustion. But I have established some guidelines that I regard as my foundation for better time management that I’m more than happy to share. They’re not one-size fits all, but they fit perfectly into my life.

My Office Assistant, Pinot sets a poor example of time management

Keep a Weekly White Board

I keep a white board in my office that’s divided into seven columns for each day of the week.  This allows me to visually map out my “Must-Get-Dones” for each day and set priorities for the week. Moving these tasks from my mental to-do list and to my white board has been a huge stress reliever and organizational tool. I can clear my mind long enough to focus on a single task and when I have time to move on to the next project or if something were to come up and change my plans, I can visually move around my tasks from day-to-day and change them as often as my schedule does. I also find myself completing tasks based on priority not based on ease or interest which I’ve found to be my own personal form of procrastination.

Block Schedule Your Time

All too often I would find myself in the same workday scenario. I would be trying to complete 4 tasks at once, have at least 8 pages open on my browser and be checking my email every 3 minutes. Not only was I not getting anything done, I was also causing myself more frustration and stress. The answer I found was to block-schedule my work time. I focus on what task I need to complete, estimate the appropriate time it should take me and schedule time on my calendar to work solely on that task until completion, just like I would schedule a meeting or conference call. And because I wouldn’t check my email in the middle of a meeting or hang up in the middle of a conference call, I am able to see one task through to completion and find myself with a better quality product in the end.

Be Productive Even When You’re Not Working

No one can be productive for 8+ hours straight. Ok, no HUMAN can be that productive…but we are just that—human. We need to take breaks and my best advice is that when you feel like you need 15 minutes away from the computer screen, take it and make it count. I use my breaks throughout the day to still do productive things that I want to get done, they just might not be work related. I’ll read through a magazine, clean, do laundry or browse Word Press and see what other people are writing about. By using these little breaks to knock routine or housekeeping items off of my list, I’m still gaining that moment of relaxation and mental clarity while clearing even more free time for myself in the future.

Get Into a Routine

As a freelancer and business owner, I set my own schedule. I COULD sleep in until 11am each morning or spend the afternoons shopping, but I don’t. I wake up earlier now than I ever did with a desk job. I exercise, eat breakfast and shower just like I would if I were going to an office. Then I use the first hour of my work day to complete routine business-building tasks. I browse the news, answer emails and update my social media. After one hour, no matter what, I stop. I then focus solely on client work and what my white board has laid out for me that day. My goals for the day are already outlined and I know exactly how much time I’ve allotted to complete each one. This structure in my day helps me to move forward and with greater speed and efficiency. Find whatever routine works for you, but stick with it!

Make the Most of Your Mornings

Get up early. Get up two hours earlier than when you would normally feel like waking up. I promise you, this is some of the best advice I can give to anyone who wants to be successful. Those morning hours are ones you’ll never be able to make up for the rest of your day. If you wake up late, you’ll be playing “catch-up” until you finally crash into bed that night. Mornings are your time to knock as much off your to-do list as possible. If a crisis were to strike in the afternoon, you’ll be well-equipped to handle it without it causing other tasks to roll over to the next day. If you work hard enough in the mornings and find yourself with some free time in the afternoon, then that’s all yours! You paid the piper now enjoy it, guilt-free. Run an errand, exercise, check-in with a friend, nap or give into a guilty pleasure. Eventually this “free afternoon” reward will inspire you to want to work hard in the momings and if you use today’s free afternoon to work ahead on tomorrow’s tasks, you can “earn” an entirely free day later that week.

These guidelines aren’t easy or always fun. They take discipline and accountability. But I promise you, you’ll adjust to the early mornings and new routine and will be even more prepared to accommodate the future growth of your business, your family and all of the chaos that comes with it!

Stephanie Shirley

stephanie@bennisinc.com